We trust you with the children but not the Internet

Edit #2: Having spoken to SMT I feel a bit happier. There are sensible points in there about making people aware that something posted even in private can easily be made publicly and taken out of context and other very reasonable content. Knowing the SMT at the school as I do, I doubt very much that it is a stick to beat us with or a tool to use in a witch-hunt – much more a set of rules that mean we can’t claim ignorance as a defence if we do something stupid. I don’t agree with all of the points and I have been invited to feed in any thoughts or opinions about how to make things more transparent. Much as with e-safety, I would personally be much happier if I was simply left to get on with it – but I appreciate that policies and guidelines are required and that if nothing else, it forces me to consider whether what I am doing is sensible, foolish or a balanced risk.

This was going to be a rant about the new Social Networking policy I received yesterday1. In fact I spent a good 10 minutes venting my spleen into this very editing window. As I started to balance out my argument though, I realised that actually I was over-stating things, although that doesn’t mean I’m happy.

Our new policy says that we are not to use Social Networking during the school day or using school equipment. I’m not happy with that. I have a Twitter network of over 1000 people who are interested in education*, I am part of a Facebook group that discusses ICT teaching topics, I’m an active member on both the CAS Google Group and the TES forum and, of course, I blog**.

Now I don’t have a copy of the policy in front of me (I’m not sure why, but there weren’t enough to go around at last night’s staff meeting), but I’m pretty sure it said ‘for personal use’ in there. And all of the above can be (IMO) justified as professional use. Yes, some of my tweets can be a bit chatty and… well… social – but the overall effect is that I get a lot of professional value from it. What it does mean is that I shouldn’t be playing Farmville during a cover lesson and then chatting to the three people who still use Bebo. And I can’t really argue with that.

I do feel unhappy about this document – not least that we are told it is about ‘safeguarding staff’ and it is for our own protection. Give us advice, give us guidelines, fine. Give us rules and it feels like you don’t trust us to make value judgements (a bit like our new ID lanyards – but that’s a rant for another day). Most of the people enforcing these rules do not understand the technology or its use. That sounds like an easy get-out clause for a disgruntled employee, but it would be like putting someone with no formal educational training or experience in charge of schools. Oh, no, wait. Bad example. Anyway…

The rules are there and I have to decide what to do. Do I draft my argument /concerns and send it to the Head? Do I carry on as things are and see what happens? Do I remove my online presences? And how do I go about *teaching* about social networks if I’m not actually allowed to use them.

And another tricky one – we are not to interact with / befriend students. Now I know that at least one 6th former reads this blog (which is pretty sad really – and yes I do mean you, haven’t you got something better to do? Find a past paper for Unit 3 or something), so does that mean that this post is knowingly interacting with a student? Very subtle and tricky situations in here.

Ah well, I had a good grace period, and I can’t see me closing my Twitter account any time soon. In the meantime, I’d best go and remove those drunken photographs from Flickr…***

* Plus Stephen Fry, naturally

** OK, not very often of late, but still…

*** This is a joke, just to be clear

1 Edit: The policy is adapted from the LA protocol but is a school policy.

Image Attribution: We trust you with the children but not the Internet Originally uploaded by Scott McLeod

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TMNE10: Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls

Context: Teachmeet Northeast took place on Thursday 9th December. Each day I’m blogging about one thing I learned at the event.

As well as the presentations at the Teachmeet, there was time for a discussion group and as tempted as I was to spend the evening getting irate about the white paper, Simon Finch was leading a discussion of eSafety and I thought this one might be interesting.

The following is based on my interpretation of what Simon discussed. It should not be taken as gospel and it is always possible there are misinterpretations on my part. It was an interesting discussion, although too short to really allow it to form a proper debate, and I’m going to find it quite difficult to add my tuppence worth.

Simon’s stance in the discussion was that teachers need to protect themselves. He gave an example of a teacher who allowed a pupil to use their laptop for research while it was connected to the whiteboard – resulting in inappropriate (though innocently discovered) images being shown to the class. I had my own example that involved searching for how to create a mask in GIMP – you can probably picture the results without needing to reach for Google.

My opinion is that this resulted in a useful discussion with my Year 8s about what to do when you find something inappropriate on the Internet – and the fact is that this will happen from time to time. For another example, if you’ve ever heard of Goldilocks then try googling Daddy Bear.

Simon had one suggestion and one question to help protect staff – keep an eSafety event book (much as you keep an accident book) to log any potential incidents and the question ‘should Internet searches appear on whiteboards?’.

Now keeping an eSafety log is possibly a sensible idea. With very obvious potential issues, having the evidence to hand should there be a complaint can only strengthen the position of the school in defending the actions of the teacher. What worries me is that every time a pupil comes across a proxy site, every time you do a Google Image Search or a Flickr Search and come across a picture of Megan Fox, etc., etc., etc. you might feel concerned enough to log the event. For me, this is moving from professional safeguarding to paranoia.

Of course there is a line somewhere and we need to temper the risks to staff with the risks to freedom. I do worry about the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and I also worry that if teachers can’t be trusted to be professional, to use their discretion and to be left in charge of pupils without the constant pressure to document any potential ‘event’ then why is teaching described as a ‘profession’. Ultimately an atmosphere of fear is created, or at least perpetuated.

In regards to the question of whether web searches should appear on a whiteboard then my answer is, simply, yes. As a teacher, particularly of ICT, I think that burying our heads in the sand, building a walled garden and taking great lengths to avoid the discussion is at best, missing the point and at worst, downright reckless.

Students will use search engines at home. Search engines that are nowhere near as heavily filtered as they are in school. They will find inappropriate language, inappropriate images and probably a whole host of things you neither could nor would want to imagine. Such is the nature of the Internet. Students need to be prepared for this. If you bring someone up in an environment where they have no access to fire and then they move into a house with an open fire and gas powered hobs then you would probably not be entirely surprised if they burnt the house down, or at least singed a tea towel or three. You need to teach people how to use these tools appropriately.

I’ve just done a search for ‘Mask GIMP’ and also ‘GIMP mask’. On my school laptop no less. There were some images that showed up at the top of the list – showing non-obscene images of men wearing masks. I could see from the titles of the web pages and the short blocks of text that some of the links referred to image editing and others were clearly not appropriate. I somehow managed to avoid clicking on any of the inappropriate links, but most of them looked like they were shops anyway, certainly no explicit sites on the first page.

Of course I wouldn’t aim to do this deliberately in front of kids, but the idea that I unplug the whiteboard every time I want to use Google seems overly paranoid to me.

On the other hand, perhaps I’m spoilt. My line manager would go to the wall for me. My Head would back me to the hilt. I know this, and I’ve seen evidence of it. Maybe that is giving me a false sense of security, but I just can’t bring myself to agree with Simon.

And that, for me, is the hard bit. I’ve spoken to Simon online a number of times. I know that his aim here is to protect children and to protect staff. I’m also sure that he sees the worst examples, that he knows how things can go when they go wrong. I just find it very hard to agree that going to the lengths he suggests is the right thing for ME to do.

I should point out that there were other topics we covered, albeit briefly. The idea that misuse of web access (e.g. use of proxy sites) should be tackled through the pastoral system rather than as an ICT issue was very apt. The principal that teachers should never give out their passwords to students is obvious, but I can’t honestly say I’ve never seen it happen.

Image attribution: warning extreme danger Originally uploaded by paul.klintworth